The first few seconds of Redlands' second full-length album are somewhat surprising: Fast electric guitars and drums start to kick up dust and an upbeat country-rock rhythm. It doesn't exactly sound like the sad, sleepy Redlands of yesteryear.
Of course, this is surprising in a good way; all of Are You Breathing? is smoother, happier and just plain bigger than The Water's Rising, the band's 2006 album. Are You Breathing? is Redlands' first album recorded as a group collaboration, and the teamwork echoes in every note.
Singer-songwriter Daniel Thrall's emotive vocals and lyricism are still present, but in slightly different shades; on "Burn the Bridge," it's a devil-may-care attitude toward responsibility, and on "A Someday," it's giddy optimism ("there's a someday for us, someday soon to come"). Pop hooks abound, even on the more contemplative tracks; the combination of the darker side of Redlands with the thicker guitars and fuller production makes for much more powerful songs. On "Mercy Core," lines like "outside on the city streets, chaos makes me wanna stay inside" combine with a downright giddy riff, and then the chorus escalates into pure pop bliss, complete with a burning electric guitar hook, backing vocals and a slight key change at the end of it all.
Truth be told, all of the choruses on Are You Breathing? are pure pop bliss, even on the sadder, sleepier tracks.